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American Exceptionalism

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William Crawley | 10:32 UK time, Sunday, 15 April 2012

I spent a few hours yesterday with Dr Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and author of The Divided States of America. You know you're in a room with Richard Land, he's a big man with a big personality and enumerates his ideas on public policy with unqualified confidence. He has represented the views of evangelicals to congress and in The White House and is a frequent guest on television news and political discussion programmes. Someone once told me that Nashville is "the Baptist Vatican", and, having spent a few days here, I've no reason to doubt that. Which would make Richard Land a senior cardinal -- at least.


Land believes the media in the US, with the exception of Fox News, is Left-leaning and biased in favour of Obama. He regards the President as a "statist", indeed a "socialist"' who has massively expanded the federal government. He explains: since the end of World War II, the US federal government's spending has averaged about 20 per cent of GDP. When George W Bush left office, it was 20.8 per cent. Under Obama, it's 25.6. Moreover, under Obama the US national debt increased by 50 per cent in four years -- from $10 trillion to $15 trillion. This isn't just an economic issue for Land, it's also a moral concern. He regards that scale of debt as a form of "generational theft". That's why he believes this next presidential election will be the most important for the US since Lincoln's election in 1860.

Land is a critic of the so-called "new evangelicals". He tells me that the term "evangelical" is now so popular in the US that some post-denonational adherents have essentially abducted this signifier while sharing few of its traditional commitments. Land is pro-life, opposed to gay marriage, in favour of capital punishment and has made a religious and moral argument in support of the war in Iraq. He regards all these positions as consistent with a high view of the created dignity of human life: for example, judicial execution is how a state demonstrates the high value it places on the life of the victim. For the same reason, he says, he'd never consider voting for pro-choice candidate in any election -- that's an absolute deal-breaker. (Romney, incidentally, supported abortion rights when governor of Massachusetts, but now identifies as a pro-life candidate, which his opponents regard as self-interested "flip-flopping", while Obama has maintained a consistently pro-choice stance.)

He speaks positively about David Cameron, but parts company with him on gay marriage. Many socially conservative Republicans here are struggling to understand why a conservative government in the UK would be campaigning in favour of same-sex marriage. Marriage is open to gay couples in a few US states but 31 others have already passed state-wide constitutional bans on non-heterosexual marriage (while, in a few cases, permitting civil partnerships). Land expects North Carolina to become the 32nd state to do so next month. He also disputes the new polling suggesting that more than 50 per cent of Americans are now in favour of gay marriage: people don't give honest answers to pollsters, he says.

Land will be supporting Romney, the likely Republican candidate, in the presidential election and tells me he believes most evangelicals will do the same. They may regard Mormonism as a cult,as Land does ("it's a cult, but they don't act like a cult"), but when the alternative is Obama their vote will go to Romney.

One of the chapters in Land's book The Divided States of America deals with America's special status in the world. America, he says, is not like any other country: it's less a piece of geography and more like a cause ("and that cause is freedom"). Land believes that "America's particular fortune has not been fortuitous; it is a sign of divine blessing". God, he says, has a particular and special interest in the American project: America is called to be a beacon of freedom in the world and God is personally looking out for it. Many in Europe will see that attitude (sometimes called "American Exceptionalism" or the doctrine of "manifest destiny") as part of the problem. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, equates it with a "theology of empire". But Land dismisses those critiques: just look at the history of the United States, he says, and you'll find all the evidence you need that God is unusually interested in the progress of this place.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    "it's a cult, but they don't act like a cult"

    Could Land not apply this to the Southern Baptists?

    "In 1982, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution rejecting the theory of evolution and stating that creation science "can be presented solely in terms of scientific evidence without any religious doctrines or concepts." Some Southern Baptist leaders have spoken out in favor of the intelligent design movement."

    http://www.pewforum.org/Science-and-Bioethics/Religious-Groups-Views-on-Evolution.aspx

    Land talks in terms of federal government spending, but this is not the equivalent of total government spending. In the UK I seldom hear the distinction made between central government spending (33% GDP) and local government spending (12% GDP). Total government spending in the USA would be in the region of 40% of GDP (there is also the Federal Deficit [9%] to consider).

    The largest single category of expenditure in the US federal budget is Defense (24%). I think more effort directed at reducing this than attacking same-sex marriage would reap rewards for American society.

  • Comment number 2.

    newlach (@ 1) -

    "it's a cult, but they don't act like a cult"

    Could Land not apply this to the Southern Baptists?

    "In 1982, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a resolution rejecting the theory of evolution and stating that creation science "can be presented solely in terms of scientific evidence without any religious doctrines or concepts." Some Southern Baptist leaders have spoken out in favor of the intelligent design movement."


    So anyone who dissents from the theory that reality is ultimately mindless, is a member of a cult?

    I know atheism delights in pushing the boundaries of bluff and bluster, but c'mon, newlach, you don't really think you can pull this one off at the "poker table" of debate, do you?
  • Comment number 3.

    LSV

    If the Mormons are a cult why are the Southern Baptists not? That was my point.

  • Comment number 4.

    "Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, equates it with a "theology of empire"."

    Jim Wallis would be right; it's the old 'for God and' apple.

  • Comment number 5.

    3.At 21:50 15th Apr 2012, newlach wrote:
    LSV

    If the Mormons are a cult why are the Southern Baptists not? That was my point.
    *****
    It's a good point.
    It's all depends whose doctrine one is using in defining "cult." I have good, fundamentalist friends who believe Catholicism is a cult.And the word "cult" has differing meanings too, not all are bad.

  • Comment number 6.

    "Land believes the media in the US, with the exception of Fox News, is Left-leaning and biased in favour of Obama."
    ***
    I think that is mostly correct, but of course FOX News leans the other direction & has it's own biases.

  • Comment number 7.

    Re the news: I’m a geek about the NewsHour. Weeknights 6 pm central. Here’s the website.

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/

  • Comment number 8.

    "Romney, incidentally, supported abortion rights when governor of Massachusetts, but now identifies as a pro-life candidate, which his opponents regard as self-interested "flip-flopping", while Obama has maintained a consistently pro-choice stance.)"
    ***
    I'd like to give Mr. Romney the benefit of the doubt here just as Washington gave folks like Sen. Byrd from West Virginia (who used to be a KKK member) the benefit of the doubt when he matured & saw things differently.Sometimes enlightenment's genuine, even in Washington. But sure, sometimes it's not.Guess we can wait & see.

  • Comment number 9.

    Mr. Will,
    Maybe one of your Nashville hosts will take you out to eat here :)

    http://www.lovelesscafe.com/

  • Comment number 10.

    Dr Land responds to allegations of plagiarism. In a radio speech Dr Land referred to the Reverend Jessie Jackson and some others as "race hustlers".

    "They need the Travyon Martins to continue perpetuating their central myth: America is a racist and an evil nation. For them is always Selma, Alabama, circa 1965".

    A blogger from Waco Texas commented that this quote and others used by Dr Land were written by Jeffrey Kuhner of the Washington Times.

    http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120416/NEWS/304160046/Richard-Land-responds-plagiarism-allegations

  • Comment number 11.

    "He speaks positively about David Cameron, but parts company with him on gay marriage. Many socially conservative Republicans here are struggling to understand why a [C]onservative government in the UK would be campaigning in favour of same-sex marriage."

    Tell me about it. Many rank and file Tories in this country are no less mystified, but i believe the key to this is Coalition politics. How many Lib Dems have objected to 'gay marriage'? Clegg and some of the behind-the-scenes members of his little 'cult' (aka the Liberal Democrats) have clearly got Cameron in some kind of armlock on this issue, to the point where he even has to ride roughshod over democratic principles (the so-called 'public consultation' is a blatant charade). But Mr Cameron, this has all the hallmarks of a very BAD IDEA. Not even all homosexually orientated people are enthusiastic about it, and only people who have already rejected the idea of marriage as the standard and optimal context in which to enjoy marital relations are going to be in favour - hardly 'fertile ground', if you'll pardon the expression, for Tory votes in any circumstances. Recent polling gives Labour a big lead, which isn't all down to one policy, but if ordinary Tories are disaffected, who is going to provide the backbone at election time? This could be Cameron's poll tax.

  • Comment number 12.

    You can take Cameron's position on this as indicative of his class, likewise Boris Johnson in stopping the "ex-gay" bus ad campaign in London, rather than some "liberal conspiracy" nonsense. People's positions on such things can often be quite good, if crude, indicators. Like I'd bet confidently you're of the lower middle rump, waving and stabbing your rolled up Daily Mail, because you think this could be Cameron's poll tax, a ludicrous line that paper likes to trot out somewhat hopefully. Much as you would like to conflate religious concerns with conservative ones, it ain't so. How very typically Christian to complain about some perceived sleight in the midst of the raft of sweeteners coming to Christians in the midst of all this regarding schools for example. And in the general political narrative, do you not have two great champions in Cameron and Gove in their project to redefine Britain, against every indicator, as a "Christian country"? This is another indicator of Cameron's class. Basically an atheist, but thinks religion is good for "little people" who wave and stab their Daily Mails.

  • Comment number 13.

    AboutFarce, #12;

    "...their project to redefine Britain, against every indicator, as a 'Christian country'"

    Oh gosh yes, how patently absurd (in italics so slanted it's practically written vertically if i knew how to do them); Britain - a *Christian* country!? What if you're wrong though AboutFarce? What if the conversion of peoples in these islands was not merely a commitment which could later be revoked? What if our ancestors in fact have taken out a celestial insurance policy, which will scupper the designs of frightfully clever people who seek to return our society to pre-Christian darkness, cloaking this desire in the most 'modern' and 'enlightened' camouflage?

  • Comment number 14.

    Back atcha Theo: What if you're wrong? You could describe Northern Ireland as Christian. It bears all the hallmarks after all. Plenty of blood and guts and intolerance and backwardness. But Britain, I'm afraid, is perhaps the most secular country on the planet. This is not mere point-scoring, it's a simple fact. Brits don't like great demonstrative outpourings of anything, including religion. "Get over it" as the ad would have said.

  • Comment number 15.

    Just a comment that the "pre-Christian darkness" wasn't a secular one.

  • Comment number 16.

    mscracker, #15;

    "Just a comment that the "pre-Christian darkness" wasn't a secular one."

    By "pre-Christian darkness", i don't mean "lights out" darkness. Before the adoption of Christianity, the Roman Empire might be said to have had numerous positive characteristics - the 'Pax Romana' for instance, enabling those privileged enough to have their liberty, to travel and conduct commerce freely within its confines. The darkness, i would argue, was in a mentality, pointed to in the phrase "Homo homini lupus est" (a man to [his fellow] man is a wolf). There's nothing at all wrong with secularity per se - it is a neutral term, describing that sphere of society which is outside the temple. But in seeking to do away with 'the temple' altogether, modern secularists are not going to do away with religious belief systems, unless they try to breathe life back into the carcass of communism or some other totalitarian ideology. Besides, secularism nowadays looks quite appealing, as if it could provide all the answers to society's needs - but this secularism has evolved over centuries in the context of a Christian mentality which, however imperfectly, lays down that we must "Love one another, as [Jesus] has loved [us]".

    AboutFarce;

    "You could describe Northern Ireland as Christian. It bears all the hallmarks after all. Plenty of blood and guts and intolerance and backwardness."

    When violence is commited against adults, there is sometimes bloodshed. When violence is commited against children, there is necessarily less blood - but the crime is no less serious. When violence is commited against unborn children, on the industrial scale that we see in all parts of Britain except Northern Ireland, there is again, less obvious bloodshed - but that doesn't make it any less serious for the victims of that violence. The recent publication of an article in a respected British medical ethics journal, advocating the killing of newborn children, is not surprising, and needn't give undue cause for concern. It only brings ever nearer the day when 'abortionism' will be exposed for the moral and intellectual sewage it really is.

  • Comment number 17.

    Theo (& Peterm),

    Sorry, but I feel too good to get into this at the minute. I've just spent another day doing my Shire Horse work in the garden. My spuds and carrots have made an appearance, I'm still awaiting beets, leeks and courgettes. I've sown two varieties of tomato, chillies and rosemary. My thyme, bay, sage, mint and parsley are thriving, and I'm about to cook lamb for dinner.

    All happily without Jesus in the picture. I'm quite literally cultivating my garden, as Voltaire urged...

  • Comment number 18.

    AboutFarce (@ 17) -

    I'm about to cook lamb for dinner


    You're about to cook a cousin for dinner? How disgusting.

    Is this practice another wonderful aspect of "the beautiful fact"?

    All happily without Jesus in the picture.


    Then why mention Him at all?
  • Comment number 19.

    "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." (Hamlet, iv. 5.)

  • Comment number 20.

    About Farce

    No problem - there'll be more joy in a vegetable patch than pixels.

    Potatoes up already, maybe we put ours in a bit late, but I'll assume these are 1st earlies?

    And all without Jesus in the picture; why that's practically a Passover Feast you have there; and there's always the chance you could end up with an iconic spud.

  • Comment number 21.

    @17. AboutFarce,
    Good luck with your garden.
    My projects this year have been fruit trees & chickens.I haven't made much progress on the garden but do see dill, basil & chili pepper seedlings up from last year's plants. One wild-type bird pepper actually survived the winter & is growing back from where the frost missed it.

  • Comment number 22.

    AboutFarce

    Brits don't like great demonstrative outpourings of anything, including religion.

    Demonstrative outpourings are the worst!

    Theophane

    I wouldn't count on Lib Dem arm twisting as an explanation for Cameron on marriage. Peter Hitchens made a very astute observation a few weeks ago about Cameron and marriage;

    Well, as for marriage, he now claims to be much more concerned about helping a few hundred homosexuals get married than about helping millions of heterosexuals to stay married.

    This is, in fact, a wind-up. I shouldn’t think Mr Slippery [he calls Cameron Mr. Slippery] cares even slightly about homosexuals, and I wonder what he used to say about them in private before he was beguiled by Samantha’s dolphin tattoo and her fake cockney accent, and learned how to be cool.

    But he knows that driving homosexual marriage through Parliament will enrage the suburban voters he despises. He longs to be assailed by them, because it will make him look good among the Guardian-reading metropolitans he wants to win over.
  • Comment number 23.

    Andrew, 22;

    From Hitchens' article,

    "Well, as for marriage, he now claims to be much more concerned about helping a few hundred homosexuals get married than about helping millions of heterosexuals to stay married."

    This is an excellent point, but i'm not convinced by the 'wind-up' explanation. I'm certainly struggling to think of a precedent in British politics. True, he seems to have been rather gratified by one or two favourable notices he received in the Manchester Guardian, and wants to be friends with them, but i still don't think that's the whole story. And i'm now given to understand that not only ordinary Tories but a significant number of MPs are likely to be resistant to the idea of homosexual marriage. Cameron will need to be very careful in the way he uses the whips.

  • Comment number 24.

    Precedent? I'm sure some concerned green inker said the same during the legalisation of homosexuality and the repeal of Section 28, and the equalising of the age of consent for that matter. Go on Theo, say something about a Big Gay Conspiracy in government. Give the "gay mafia" line another outing, because people who know, know that Blair's government was beholden to the "gay mafia" don't they. Stop winking and nudging and say what you really think for a giggle before I go out again.

  • Comment number 25.

    AF;

    In no. 23, what i meant was, i can't think of a precedent, where a government policy has actually been a 'wind-up', as put forward as an explanation by Peter Hitchens. This wasn't conspicuously associated with April Fools Day, as far as i'm aware.

  • Comment number 26.

    Here's a NY Times article that touches on this subject:

    Books of The Times
    When American Faith Transcended Differences
    In ‘Bad Religion,’ Ross Douthat Criticizes U.S. Christianity


    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/19/books/in-bad-religion-ross-douthat-criticizes-us-christianity.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss

  • Comment number 27.

    Theo

    The leadership of the Conservative Party has been at this job of work for quite a while now. It's a long term project to reposition the party. The marriage issue is just another craw sticking along the way. And as far as I'm concerned the marriage announcement was a double doing; I mean having to look (and listen!) to May and Featherstone everywhere I, um, looked for a whole day was enough to send my high spirits south. One of them is usually sufficient to do that. Two is now my benchmark for a bad day. If I recall Yvette Cooper may also have been in someway involved but by that stage I would have been having a mental episode on the floor.

    I suspect Hitchens is right. Cameron doesn't care about gay marriage, he's driving an agenda. But the problem with counting on Tory supporters and the MPs they help to elect to stop it is they will either bottle it or make a royal mess in trying.

  • Comment number 28.

    Andrew, 27;

    "The leadership of the Conservative Party has been at this job of work for quite a while now. It's a long term project to reposition the party."

    One might try to delve a little deeper into this, in an attempt to diagnose the problem. I still think Coalition politics are involved, but it may also be instructive to look at the relationship between the Conservative Party and the Church of England, once known as "the Tory party at prayer". For centuries, the Anglican Church has been the Tories' unchanging moral hinterland. Then however, and i say this as an ex-Anglican (though i never practised), came a capitulation in the early 1990s to feminist demands to ordain women 'priests'. The abject thing about it, causing a serious drop in the Church of England's share price as far as i was concerned, was that in no small measure it was a capitulation to demands that emanated from *outside* the Church. But returning to the matter at hand, i wonder whether senior Tory thinking has been clouded by the idea that there is some kind of moral imperative to give people what they want, and tell people what they want to hear? Another factor of course is the gradual move away from recognising the primary procreative function of marriage. There's a matter of 'intellectual consistency' here - if it's legitimate for a man and woman to marry with no intention of having children, then why not change the rules of membership? But where does that stop exactly - and why does it stop there? Who exactly will provide the moral authority, as ever more outlandish and bizarre (i've refrained from using more pungent adjectives) ideas are put forward for future redefinitions of 'marriage'?

  • Comment number 29.

    Tory MP Nadine Dorries has described David Cameron and George Osborne as "two arrogant posh boys". There's not much either of them can do about the "posh" tag, but Cameron at least could go some way to negate the charge of "arrogance" by making the 'public consultation' on homosexual marriage exactly that - a 'consultation', rather than what it is now - a condescending, deceitful bit of PR window dressing.

  • Comment number 30.

    And you'd rush to cast your opinion on legislation for England and Wales? Why don't you write a strongly worded letter?

  • Comment number 31.

    AboutFarce;

    What makes you think i don't live on the Isle of Man?

  • Comment number 32.

    Theophane

    I see that Bellatrix Lestrange has recently revealed that David Cameron is a death eater. Shocking news!

    I don't hold out much hope for much difference should the Conservatives gain a majority in the next Parliament. In many respects the debate has shifted, or is shifting.

  • Comment number 33.

    "What makes you think i don't live on the Isle of Man?"

    Well then surely you should be complaining about sexism or some bit of political correctness that actually pertains to you.

    It should really be the Isle of Person, shouldn't it.

  • Comment number 34.

    Andrew;

    The Lady may not have been for turning, but frankly, if Dave doesn't do a U-turn on the issue of homosexual marriage, this country is [Unsuitable/broken URL: What does this mean?].

  • Comment number 35.

    Who will fix 'Brokeback Mountain' Britain?

 

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